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Were children cared for in early modern English Society?

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Were children cared for in early modern English Society? Early modern English child rearing practices like wet-nursing, swaddling, prescriptive literature and apparent lack of parental emotional attachment has caused much discussion, regarding the care of children. Philippe Aries and Lawrence Stone used these ideas, amongst others, to suggest that parents did not care for their children. Their ideas have been challenged by a number of historians who argue that, through research of first hand accounts in diaries and official records, it is clear that children were cared for and even though these practices appear to our modern society as uncaring and cruel they were, in fact, carried out with the best of intentions. Aries in Centuries of Childhood (1962) claimed that before medieval times the idea of a state of childhood was non-existent and parents were not aware of the need to treat them any differently to adults. He studied the depiction of children in paintings of the time and concluded that children were treated the same as adults because they were portrayed the same, with the same clothing and features. Aries, along with Lawrence Stone, argued that there was, however, a change in attitudes towards children during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when adults began to realise that children were emotionally different to them and as such needed protecting. Although most people now saw that children were different to adults and as such needed to be treated differently, they believed that children needed guidance and instruction to be good. ...read more.


Many historians view swaddling as neglect and abuse and Dr Cadogan (1748) in his writing on child care instructed mothers that the wet nurses were using swaddling for their own benefit to keep the child quiet and out of the way, when: he is hung from a nail like a bundle of old clothes......the violently compressed chest not allowing the blood to circulate...the patient was believed to be tranquil because he did not have the strength to cry out.3 but it could also be argued that they were, in their view, protecting the child, keeping the child out of danger. Swaddling a child also keeps it warm, secure and reduces the heart rate, thus they tend to sleep more enabling the nurses to continue with their work. So even though it may have benefited the wet nurses it can also be seen as beneficial to the child. Houlbrooke states in The English Family (1992) that swaddling was part of the customs passed down the generations and this practice was carried out to 'maintain a womb-like environment for the newly born baby'4. It could be seen from this explanation that children were cared for because they were being kept from the harshness of the world by mimicking the protectiveness of the mother's womb According to Stone (1990), swaddling started to become less used from the end of the seventeenth century and this, he believed, was a clear indication parents were beginning to care for children more. ...read more.


Lady Anne Clifford refers to her daughter as 'Child' until her fifth birthday on July 2nd 1619 when she refers to 'my Lady Margaret was five years old'8. Some historians argue that this is a sign that they did not care for their children but Houlbrooke (1992) believes that being emotionally detached was the only way that parents could maintain their own emotional stability and by not referring to them with names does not give them the individuality that may be required to become attached. In today's modern society, the practices carried out by early modern parents such as wet nursing, swaddling, reading frightening prescriptive literature and remaining emotionally detached from their children would be considered, at the very least neglectful, and possibly abusive. However, we cannot judge these traditions by our own standards. Early modern English parents carried out these traditions because it was the general belief that they were doing what was best for their children. They genuinely believed that swaddling was protecting their child and wet nursing was giving them the best chance of survival. They even considered that to be emotionally distanced from their child would make it easier if the child did not survive. All of this evidence does not give clear indications that children were not cared for but that the care they received was different to our modern views because their idea of children and childhood was different to that of ours today. ...read more.

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